Ginger's Reviews > Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia

Princess by Jean Sasson
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's review
Aug 26, 2012

really liked it
Read in August, 2012

Having worked at the U.S. Saudi Arabian Business Council in Washington D.C. for 3 years (1999-2002), I was very interested to read this book, wish I had read it earlier, but surprisingly, no one at work ever mentioned it. It was a small office of 10 people, 2 Saudis, 7 Americans, 1 Tunisian. Even there, it seems that everyone was willing to overlook human rights abuses for the sake of opening up Saudi Arabia for modernization, and perhaps that would allow for change for its people. And I must say, this book was published in 1992, 20 years ago. What I did learn of Saudi women there and from "Girls of Riyadh" by Rajaa Alsanea leads me to believe that change has come for middle-upper class Saudi women; for the lower classes, I cannot say.

Sasson writes clearly, fluidly telling Princess Sultana's (not her real name) story and that of her family with haunting flair. Like Sultana, she doesn't flinch when it comes to arranged marriages, female circumcision, hypochrisy and double sexual standards for Saudi men, polygamy, lack of rights for woman to speak, drive, control their private information like passports, the fact that their lives are controlled first by their fathers, then their husbands, despite the fact that Sasson at first was reluctant to tell this story. Read the Afterword and helpful appendices that contain what the Koran actually says regarding women and timeline of 20th century Saudi history.

Sultana doesn't seem to see herself as the spoiled princess she is. She has a fiery temper and gets away with a lot as a child, and even as an adult. From her description of daily foot massages, the palaces her family owned and servants they employed, to the fact that she and her husband owned 3 Lear Jets, you know she had probably never washed a dish or made a bed in her life. Yet she still manages to gain your empathy for human rights abuses, the most tragic having been suffered by her friends and sisters. This book is clearly about the Saudi Royal woman, though Sultana gives a few details about the lowest class Bedouin women and even fewer about the middle class. From Sultana's story, I gather that there is great separation between classes as well, despite their shared gender, making the struggle for women's rights even more daunting. For insight on the middle-upper class Saudi women's lives, read "Girls of Riyadh" by Rajaa Alsanea.

Spoiler Alert* below
After the first 14 chapters, I thought, "Wow, Sultana totally lucked out with her arranged marriage to a man who had been educated by Western standards AND was handsome, AND willing to wait for her invitation to consummate their marriage on their honeymoon!" But alas, her courageous risk garners your sympathy once again, when her husband says he wants a 2nd wife, she takes drastic action.

The main reason I did not give this 5 stars is that while Sultana gives great detail about her son's birth, she doesn't tell the stories of her pregnancies or births of her 2 daughters, they are mentioned only later. Granted her son was her firstborn, as a mom of 2 I can understand less attention to 2nd and 3rd children, and all the names have been changed in this story to protect Sultana and her children. I was surprised and disappointed not to learn more about her daughters, but they are detailed in the second book, Sultana's Daughters. Then further horrifc human rights abuses she discovers among her cousins and relatives of their Cairo maid are detailed in book three, Sultan's Circle.

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